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Sedona Plein Air Festival

A week of focused art, where the most talented artists from around the world come to see this beautiful place with their own eyes. In a moment with the different emotions of almost thirty different artists shifting individual feelings, breezes, clouds and landscapes all trying to be captured with brush strokes.

You can capture this beautiful place a million times a day for centuries and the end results would never repeat, never get old, and never disappoint.

I'm starting to think I look like a groupie to these artists. I'm ok with that. I keep showing up to just watch and try to get in, try to socialize. I'm looking for two things, knowledge (where ever I can get it, on what ever topic I can, IE: equipment, scene selection, note taking, pallet size, color scope, value identification, composition choices, you name it), as well as "the feeling", which can't be described here. I'll have to dedicate a post to that, but in short, it's what I'm hungry for, it's what gets me out here, I'm looking for it and trying to get a taste of it every day, but it's rare. Events like this offer the opportunity to find it several times a day. These creative groups always create something that feeds my hunger.

I knew I was going to come to this event for months. It's an all week event, the first chance I got to head down there was Wednesday. I was bummed that I wasn't able to make it to the first half of the event. But I think I'll be able to make it to the rest. This is very, very, good news.

On my drive down from the rim I can see the sun starting to be enveloped by some cold thick morning clouds. They are losing their light, and it's getting cold. October is not usually this cold, I'm sure the organizers promised some of the best weather.

I arrived mid-way through the quick draw, they have two hours to paint the creek. Moving water, reflections, ducks, beautiful trees, it's a wonderful enchanted place. By the time I get down to the water, I can see easel after easel spread out by not more than 10 to 15 feet, some even closer. They are deep into it, they are mesmerized by the scene in front of them and are almost entirely unaware of the meandering crowds peaking over shoulders and whispering their wonder and awe at what is being revealed at each canvas.

I stop by some artists that I recognize from the Grand Canyon. I act like I haven't been stocking their every move for weeks online. As if I haven't been critiquing and taking notes on each piece that I've been able to get a glimpse of.

I'm terrible, I'm a researcher, I'm prepared. I don't like know their kids names (well, not most of them), or anything. It's not like I'm digging deep into their personal lives. I just want to know things like, how they travel, what types of environments they stay at when they get to a festival, what equipment they bring and why. I have more questions than they can ever imagine. I'm a science based guy who knows that questions lead to the frontier, and I want to be as close to this Plein Air Impressionist frontier as possible. Get me to the very edge, the breaking front, but I'm so far away.

I'm also so incredibly surprised, again, at the openness and lack of competitiveness. The industry I'm from is cut-throat, dog eat dog, no room for competitors. This is not that way. Sure I might get a few that look at me and wonder why they are seeing me again, if I'm stalking them (literally). Of course I'm just hungry for more, but they don't know that.

I've learned quite a bit since the Grand Canyon Festival. I'm no longer completely oblivious as to what each artists styles are like, and how well known, or talented each artist is. Mick McGinty was a Plein Air artist that I saw at the Grand Canyon Festival, he is humble to the point of a flaw. He acts as if he is not a world class accomplished artists. For example, he was painting and had a beautiful composition, he was saying that there are no clouds in the sky but that he really wanted to break up the blue sky. He mentioned that some other artist down the way would have no problem just popping in a cloud, but that he wasn't sure he could pull it off. He was acting insecure about the idea, as if he couldn't get the cloud that he wanted out of his brush and onto his piece. He bravely pulled up some white, then grey, then purple, then yellow, then pink, then mixed up a turquoise, and threw in some highlights, and just like that he had a sky to rival any impressionist from all time in the history of it. I casually encouraged him as if he was an armature and just pulled off some heroic move.

But now, I know better. This man has, just like ever artist here, has skills that have been honed and defined through countless paintings over hundreds or thousands of hours. His cloud was no anomaly. Please look at some of his work, you tell me how anyone with this kind of skill can act as if they are intimidated by a scene or a color, or an emotion that needs to be portrayed in a moment when they have to perform on the spot. What anxiety could they possibly have about their ability to finish.

And so goes the revealing of the methods of the artists. I'm finding out more an more every day.

I meet briefly with Kari Ganoung Ruiz from New York, who also appears quiet and timid at first. Don't let that fool you, she's at another level as well. Initially you see a technically well executed composition. Not breaking any major rules, there is certainly no "uncanny valley" feel to the perspective, the shapes, values, or shadows. Everything lines up and is pleasing, I would say "harmonious", but this is what she's mastered years and years ago. As a young artists you wouldn't think you would find such mastery of those pieces, but it is obvious. Then you realized what makes the piece more than a rule-following execution. You see several layers more. You'll quickly find why you feel cold and why you want to walk up that bank and into those warm leaves. Why the light up there must be where you've wanted to go this whole time. And why the shadows of the roots of that massive old tree are not in complete darkness in this silhouette piece, and why you are fully aware that the rocks you do not see behind are, in fact, red. This might be from the "purple" shadows, not black or blue shadows that make up the details of those roots. And wait, are those details, are those tiny brush strokes capturing each minuet fiber? No, those are suggestions and it was in your own head the entire time. Look closer, you'll see those simple suggestions causing you to fill in all the detailed blanks. But that again is just the technique, where is the artist here, where does the blending of each rule and masted technique turn into what the artist was feeling? And there it is, the slippery rocks. The vibrating path from the thin bottom of the frame up through the and across the moving water and onto the bank, up threw the blanket of warm leaves. You've arrived, to the place she wanted you to see all this time, at the place she didn't paint at all, but that is there waiting for you to discover on your own.

Later I headed back to the Art Center, and find more of her work. All echoing similar compositions, deeper than I've ever known the concept of compositions to be. More than just echoing an art teacher bellowing "Bow Tie" or "Radiating line" composition types. This level of artistry brings compositions at an emotional level. These artists are incapable of composing a piece outside of some combination of known composition types, this is not the level they are even conscious of at this point. They are creating emotional compositions, not asking you to see the specific line that brought your eye to a place, or the note of color that lifted you to this part of the canvas, rather the deeper thoughts within the entire piece.

I found a piece that literally took a type of composition and sent it deep into the perspective of the piece. A Bow Tie composition that is combined beautifully with a Radiating Line piece. A creative way to combine the two using shadows from the clouds. This was another piece by the master Mick McGinty who has a studio piece hanging at the Art Center showing a horizon line of the beautiful red monuments of Sedona and a simple wide wash that is very familiar to me. He does this Sonoran Desert effortlessly, or so it appears, but when you look closer you wonder how those shadows came to be. Not the shadows from the light source on any object within the piece, but the shadows from the clouds above that you don't see. Sure, you can see clouds in the distance, but whatever is casting this subtle shadow on the landscape is above your viewing angle. Your aware of it being there, but after much study it clearly has a different purpose. It is helping the composition bring your eye to where the artist wants it when they want it. So that you follow the lines and hit all the highlights until you reach the beautiful detailed center of interest only after hitting each milestone in order on the way. This creates a contrast from afar that draws you in, creating a piece that is elegant from every angle.

I'm learning there is more to a composition than just the technical aspects and general rules. What new levels will this allow me to see now that I bring this with me to future events. How far into the frontier are these artists, I'm a million miles away, but I'm running as fast as I can.

I'm heading there again today. Seven Canyons is next, I'm hoping to see blank canvases evolve and see the process from every artists perspective. Unfortunately I can't see 30 artists at the same time, so I'll pick a few and share what I find tomorrow.

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